Lisa P. Jackson
Lisa P. Jackson
Lisa P. Jackson served as the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 2009 to 2013.
She is the first person of African-American descent and the fourth woman to serve in that position.
She was nominated to lead the federal agency by then President-Elect Barack Obama on December 15, 2008. She was confirmed by the Senate on January 22, 2009. As the EPA’s administrator, Jackson led a staff of approximately 18,000 professionals working to protect the public health and environment of all Americans.
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Born on February 8, 1962 in Philadelphia, Pa., Jackson was adopted weeks after her birth. She grew up in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, La., a predominantly African-American middle-class neighborhood. In 1979 she graduated as valedictorian from Saint Mary’s Dominican High School in New Orleans. Jackson graduated summa cum laude in 1983 from Tulane University’s School of Chemical Engineering in New Orleans. She attended on a scholarship from the Shell Oil Company. Subsequently, she earned a master’s degree in chemical engineering from Princeton University in 1986 where she says her interest in using her engineering skills to address and prevent pollution was invigorated.
She spent her first year-and-a-half out of graduate school working at Clean Sites, a nonprofit organization that brokered deals to speed the cleanup of hazardous waste sites. But she saw that EPA was the real powerhouse in driving these cleanups. Jackson began her career with the EPA as a staff-level engineer at its headquarters in Washington D.C. Later she moved to its regional office in New York City. During her tenure at the EPA, Jackson worked for the Superfund site remediation program, developing numerous hazardous waste cleanup regulations, overseeing hazardous waste cleanup projects throughout central New Jersey, and directing multimillion-dollar cleanup operations. She later served as deputy director and acting director of the region’s enforcement division.
After serving in the EPA for 16 years, Jackson joined the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) in March 2002. She worked as assistant commissioner of compliance and enforcement for land use management during 2005, before becoming commissioner in 2006. Jackson headed numerous programs, including land use regulation, water supply, geological survey, water monitoring and standards, and watershed management. Under her leadership, the state Department of Environmental Protection developed regulatory standards for implementing the landmark Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act.
She lead a staff of 2,990 professionals working to protect, sustain and enhance New Jersey’s water, air and land, and preserving its wealth of natural and historic resources. In addition to overseeing environmental programs, Jackson oversaw state parks and beaches, fish and wildlife programs and historic preservation. The New Jersey Conference of Mayors named Jackson the 2007 Cabinet Member of the Year. In December 2008 she took over as Chief of Staff for then Gov. Jon Corzine.
At the EPA, Jackson put regulating dangerous emissions at the top of her priority list. In April 2009, she established findings that carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases were harmful and contributed to global warming. In December 2009 at the climate-change talks in Copenhagen, she made the official announcement and opened the door for the EPA to regulate those gases, which come from cars, trucks and factories. It could presage a national cap-and-trade system for greenhouse-gas emissions. Jackson also played a role in President Obama’s May 2009 announcement of the first-ever national emissions limit for vehicles.
In early 2010, Rolling Stone magazine called Jackson the EPA’s “most progressive chief ever-and one of the most powerful members of Obama’s Cabinet.” Newsweek magazine named her among the ten most important people in 2010.
As of June 2010, Jackson lived in East Windsor, N.J. She is married to Kenny Jackson and is the mother of their two sons, Marcus and Brian. She is an avid cook; her signature dish — gumbo — is a tribute to her Louisiana roots. Jackson is renowned for her annual Mardi Gras party, which she has not thrown since Hurricane Katrina devastated her hometown in 2005.
— Text by Purvi Gajjar
(Photo courtesy of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency